Copyright 2008, Traffic World, Inc.
It''s been weeks since hurricanes Gustav and Ike pummeled the Gulf Coast, battering rail systems around New Orleans and Houston. Now, it''s clear that rail freight volumes won''t make a recovery for many more weeks.
Both major railroads serving the Houston-Galveston area - Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway - were still finishing up repairs last week to serve the Galveston ocean terminal, though they were up and running at Houston.
But two weeks after Hurricane Ike''s approach began disrupting life and business operations along the Texas coast, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the region still lacked electricity or water.
Some larger customers arranged for backup power systems to keep them running, but many rail shippers were still struggling to get back to pre-storm operating norms.
"Many customers remain without commercial electric power, which has affected their ability to receive and unload railcars," said BNSF''s John Lanigan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
UP said "Hurricanes Gustav and Ike have significantly impacted volumes, particularly chemicals and industrial products. Although UP''s infrastructure did not sustain significant damage from the hurricanes, widespread commercial power outages associated with Hurricane Ike have impacted operations and limited the ability of customers to resume production."
And the work force of railroads and shippers alike is frayed by having to scramble for food or other supplies, including fuel for personal vehicles, in an area where many stores also had no power or suffered brownouts as the electricity periodically shut down.
UP spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza in Houston said "we''ve had some employees who have been greatly affected by the hurricane, but we''ve had enough to continue operating." One way the company helped was by opening its on-road equipment fuel pumps so employees could gas up their cars, as many service stations were still shut down last week.
She said UP''s train service in and out of Houston was fully operational at normal operating speeds, though UP was deploying "thousands" of portable generators to keep signals running until normal power is back on line.
Lanigan said in a Sept. 19 service update message that "more than 500 BNSF employees were affected by the hurricane, with the impact ranging from evacuation to loss of electric power to significant damage to their homes."
Besides using its generators to keep the railroad signals and telecommunications systems running, he said BNSF made generators available to employees as well.
Over near New Orleans, CSX Transportation was still trying to repair some track damaged when Gustav struck on Sept. 1.
Soon after that storm, CSX said it found "at least 21 miles of track with substantial impact," starting about 10 miles east of the city. It first estimated the repairs would take about two weeks.
But it soon became apparent it would need a lot longer, partly because Ike''s ap-proach in the second week of the month slowed things down.
"The work was delayed a few days because we had to remove crews and secure equipment when it became apparent that Hurricane Ike could impact the area," said CSX spokesman Garrick Francis.
"The repairs will take a bit longer than originally expected," he said. "We are now looking at completing the work in the mid-October range."
Up to 10 CSX trains a day, on average, have to be rerouted during the repairs through alternative gateways at Memphis, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; and East St. Louis, Ill.
On top of that, some other railroads that link up with CSX at New Orleans are also sending their trains elsewhere until the normal connections can be restored.